The performers behind the West


When J. Paul Ganzel watches his 10-year-old daughter, Haley Ganzel, trick ride, he can't help but think of the day she was born.

She weighed 2 two pounds and both she and her mother almost died. But both survived, and every bad prognosis that doctors gave about Haley proved wrong.

She overcame that rough beginning, J. Paul said. She's trick riding -- in which she does acrobatic moves atop a galloping horse -- in professional shows, barrel racing and doing well in school.

Haley and J. Paul Ganzel were two of dozens of performers in this weekend's Great American Wild West Show.

The performers, along with announcer and producer of the show Don Endsley, brought the audience a flavor of what the West was like more than 100 years ago.

There were shot-outs, stagecoaches, cowboys herding Texas longhorn steers, riders standing atop the backs of two horses while jumping through a ring of fire, singing cowboys and rope spinning.

The show is modeled after the original Wild West Show started by Buffalo Bill Cody, and it weaves in the history of the wild West with lots of action and all the characters, including Cody and Annie Oakley.

The show came in part as a 100th anniversary celebration of F.M. Light & Sons.

Haley Ganzel began riding a horse when she was 2 years old. At age 4, she watched her uncle, who also performs in the Great American Wild West Show, trick ride and started to teach herself.

"Every time I turned around, she was upside down, backwards, turning over," J. Paul said.

To Haley, performing is natural -- besides her father and uncle, her grandfather and brother are part of the show.

"I like making people smile,nd I love doing the tricks," she said.

"I want to trick ride and be a veterinarian and barrel race when I grow up."

Demetra Bell, 37, dressed as an American Indian and performed with a liberty horse, which is a horse that will lie down, bow and perform other moves with only voice and hand commands.

Bell's grew up in a rodeo performing family. Her mother didn't want her to trick ride because she was worried she would get hurt, but at age 20, Bell decided to go for it.

She contacted J.W. Stoker, now almost 78, who is a world-renowned roper, member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame and also part of the Great American Wild West Show.

He taught Bell to trick ride, which she did until two years ago, when she fell during a trick ride at a performance and broke her neck. She was almost paralyzed, an event that was something of a blessing.

"It sounds so cliche, but it made me appreciate things just so much more," Bell said.

Five months later, she was back performing with her liberty horse.

Then in January, as she was driving to Denver for the National Western Stock Show, her trailer rolled and killed her horse. She started working with Kasper, who Stoker rides in the performance, and the horse picked up the skills in a matter of months.

"Well, you know what, cowgirls don't quit," she said. "You get an obstacle, you overcome it."


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